‘Little exercise book for remaining zen in an agitated world’ by the psychotherapist E.Pigani, Editions Jouvence

Dear friends,

The Christmas season does not always bring joy: some people fret about the presents to buy – how can I please my mother-in-law?-, others dread the family meals – if only my great uncle could spare us his corny jokes! etc..
So this month, I would like to tell you about an original book, which only costs 6,50 euro – No, I do not get a percentage from the publisher, but it is important to quote the price in these hard times! – It will enable you to relax so you can face the coming festive season (After all, charity begins at home, doesn’t it?) or even give someone a useful present that is not too expensive.  The book is called ‘Little exercise book for remaining zen in an agitated world’, by Erik Pigani, published by the Editions JOUVENCE.

This book which is the size of a school exercise booklet includes questionnaires and practical advices. It is illustrated with pretty drawings, the work of Jean Augagneur. The word ‘zen’ is very overrated these days. Erik Pigani, psychotherapist and journalist for the magazine ‘Psychologies’ begins his book by redefining the word.

“This is what ‘being zen’ really is: it refers to concrete action, in ‘real’ life. There are two main principles: ‘Search for simplicity above all’ and ‘Always look for the precise gesture’. So it is nothing to do with ethereal philosophy of any kind and or less a dogmatic form of religion. Being ‘zen’ is mainly being oneself, and agreeing with oneself in everyday reality, that is to say, in ‘full consciousness, in the present moment.’ 

Then, after a questionnaire measuring the ‘ zen scale ’ (No, I will not give you my score!), Erik Pigani presents exercises that I have all tested as a relaxologist and coach and… they work!

The first exercise consists in eating calmly.

“Oryoki is one of the most elaborate ritualistic practices created by the Zen Master Dôgen: prayers of gratitude before you start your meal, the right quantity of food, an awareness when eating, from the first to the last mouthful with joy and serenity. This is an attitude people are far from adopting in the day and age of fast foods, frozen and ready to eat food.  Yet, this is not only a question of ‘zen and healthy living’, but also health itself. It takes thirty to fourty minutes for some gastric hormones that  are linked to eating one’s full to be freed and for them to send a message to the brain, which will then spark off the feeling of satiety.”

In the second exercise, Erik Pigani suggests we fight fear:
“What is the biggest present you would like to give someone?” , a monk asked Buddha one day. ‘The gift of the absence of fear’, he answered
To overcome latent, everyday fears that are sometimes irrational, don’t hesitate to resort  to floral elixirs– the famous ‘flowers of Bach’. The nutmeg elixir (mimulus) and aspen are a great help.”

I confirm what Erik Pigani says and would add: the ordinary elm tree flower (ulmus procera) is recommended if you are overworked at the end of the year (to be taken imperatively before facing the crowds in department stores!)

I have also chosen the third exercise which fights stress for you, dear readers, which is:  being calm itself

“Pretend to be calm; Whatever stressful  state you are in, all you need to do is pretend to be calm for you to become extraordinarily relaxed. Even if you find this strange, play the part of a calm person, like an actor on stage: slow down your movements just a little, breathe just a little slowly. Smile at everyone, just a little and in just a few minutes, you will really be calm. This technique works well, for psychological reasons, but also (…) for a physiological reason: in 1994, American physiology researchers carried out a study with actors. They asked them to act different emotions (…) and each time, they measured the physiological results (heartbeat, breathing…) They also did blood tests: the results were exactly the same as the results obtained with real emotions!”

Along the same lines, here is another relaxation exercise suggested by Erik Pigani: Yawning.

“Yawning is an excellent anti-stress exercise! Pretending to yawn automatically creates the physiological relaxation reflexes of a real yawn. The principle is quite simple: each time you feel tension rising in you and your mind becoming cloudy, just open your mouth and yawn! The more liberally you yawn, the quicker you will feel both physically relaxed and your mind will be alert again!”

I carried out this exercise in the bus and in a waiting room while watching the person sitting next to me. Within a minute, he was also yawning irresistibly. Yawning is catching and is therefore a discreet, non intrusive way of doing one’s fellow human being some good. Try Midnight Mass just to see. But I dare you to be the first to start as soon as the homily starts!

I wish you all a very peaceful Merry Christmas and a very relaxed start to the New Year!

Helen Monnet